Pink Rann, Savanna and 4000 years past
The night train off-loaded 3 of us in Viramgam at about 2 am while Nahar proceeded to Ahmedabad as he had some work in office next day. The resort (Desert Courses) where Nahar made us an arrangement for early morning safari in Little Rann of Kutch was about an hour away. He also had arranged for a cab to take us there, but it came at 5 am. This must have been one of the longest 3 hours recently. Tired, we badly wanted a place to lie down and stretch. As there was no retiring room in the station, we knocked the door of the Jain Dharmasala nearby only to find that entry is restricted to pure bred Jains. Out casted, while I decided to be contented with the cold discomforts of Viramgam railway station, Ganesh and Renjith wanted to try their luck exploring hotels nearby. Later they shared me their horror stories of stinky sheds (which they called hotels) and dirty nightlifes they encountered. Scared and tired, they were back in station by 3.30 am to share with me its unassuaging comforts.
We started at 6 am along with driver cum naturalist Ashraf Bhai. We went straight to the chota thalab. With a wonderful sun rise in the backdrop all those pink lesser flamingos flocks appeared godly. Timing and settings being perfect photographers in us got into action. The thalab was nothing but a large swamp with shallow waters in the middle. The fact that one could not walk close to the waters due to impossible sticky mud did not deter Ganesh who was literally wallowing in the mud for that perfect shot. After almost 1.5 hours of non-stop photography, we set out for the dessertier parts. It supports sizeable fauna – wild bores, dessert foxes, etc. Wild asses are a real beauty; birds are countless. A determined and knowledgeable Raju ensured that we don’t miss a part of Little Rann – the normal 3 hour safari, extended for about 6 hours. By this time, we had lost 2 nights sleep, 1 lunch and 2 breakfasts. Desert Courses offered us very good food which we consumed in tones. We also managed to get a room for free to freshen up. The Rs.500 we paid per head for the safari+food was paltry compared to what we got.
Lesser flamingos, more photographers
Lesser flamingos: Spot one albino among the pinkies
About to fly, in chorus
Beautiful wild asses
By evening in Ahmedabad, it was time to charge up. Sabarmati ashram offered a perfect setting. Surprisingly, the river looked rejuvenated (when I saw it some years back, it was not better than a drain). Nahar joined by his wife and little Ishan keep pampering us with their hospitality, so dinner and sleep was well take care.
Ellis bridge across Sabarmati: View from the ashram
In the wee hours, we started for Velavadar black buck sanctuary in Bhavnagar district to reach there for the morning safari (some 6 hour drive). We went with no expectations, but it turned out to be yet another wonderful experience. I didn’t know that there are pure savannas in India. The view just blown us – the feel was as if we are in some Masai Mara for an African safari. Black bucks aptly enhanced the overall beauty of the park. It was exciting to learn that it is the world’s largest natural breeding spot for Harriers, a migratory bird. All the 6 varieties are found here. Here again, the birding experts with us ensured that we are fully engaged. While we were busy with birding, we were blessed with the awe-inspiring view of a flock of large common cranes, religiously following the “V” regiment, landing at the little water body nearby. After inspecting for some 10 minutes, they decided to continue their flight, again in a “V”. May be the less remarkable we are not up to their mark. Incidentally, Velavadar also blessed me with an opportunity to stumble on SP Singh – my IRMA batch mate and bellowed guide during our mandatory village stay in Kutch some 12 years back – and family.
While returning, we had sufficient enough time to peek into our past, 4500 years back, in Lothal. The way things are kept and managed now in Lothal is nothing less than heart breaking. It seemed like even the archeological guys around doesn’t realize the significance of what is being preserved. But the very thought that at a time when half of the world was yet to be discovered by man and when many part of the developed world today still led a hunter gatherer life, here were a group of people making fine micro beads and jewellery for export to other civilizations like Mesopotamia, was mind blogging. It was also interesting to learn that Lothal was not a residential settlement but an industrial area, more closer to modern day SEZ(!).
Lothal, 2500 BC: very contemporary
Bead factory: see the sloping drains, well-burnt bricks and large jar
We had one evening left in Gujarat which we spend judiciously to buy some essentials to placate spouse and kid flocks back home. I also managed to catch up my old IRMA friends, Abhishek & Vaibhav who are now IIM professors. Abhishek was at his generous best; he made me 2 doses of his patented coffee – painstakingly made with Nescafe, sugar, care, love and a lot of other ingredients. He, Richa and their cute intelligent kid, Shubhi, fed me a sumptuous dinner before packing me loads of snacks and sweets, of which I liked mohandal the best (not because it sounded similar to my favourite actor, Mohanlal).
Next day morning 9 am: I’m back in office, straight from airport. Those 3 days felt like 3 weeks - too many things in too little time. In office, it was Dec quarter end with some urgent loan proposals to process; but I could see only wild asses in the balance sheets.
Tail piece: One thing Gujarat can be proud of – fantastic roads, wow. It was a stark difference for someone used to Kerala & Bangalore roads. Good road is a barometer of economic well being of any place. Going by that, Gujarat indeed has a good economy. All the more, seeing those beaming bullet-jhakadas plying on those beautiful village roads was a view in itself.